Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …


Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication

Ed. by Piller, Ingrid

6 Issues per year

IMPACT FACTOR 2017: 0.404
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.727

CiteScore 2017: 1.14

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.546
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 0.638

See all formats and pricing
More options …
Volume 37, Issue 6


Intercultural communication within a Chinese subsidiary of a Western MNC: Expatriate perspectives on language and communication issues

Michał WilczewskiORCID iD: http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7650-5759 / Anne-Marie Søderberg
  • Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark, E-mail: aso.msc@cbs.dk
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Arkadiusz Gut
  • Department of Philosophy, The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Lublin, Poland, E-mail: kupisa@kul.lublin.pl
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2018-06-05 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2017-0095


This study investigates Polish expatriates’ stories of encounters with local personnel in a Chinese subsidiary of a Western multinational company. A narrative analysis of the stories produced important insights into Polish-Chinese communication in an intra-subsidiary context. Low proficiency in the host language was a serious obstacle to expatriate socialization and a source of expatriates’ exclusion and social isolation in the workplace, which often led to stress, frustration, and negative attitudes toward collaboration with local personnel. Language-related issues prevented the expatriates from acquiring information from Chinese superiors, learning about problems within a team, and participating in decision-making. The findings of this case study relate to communication challenges in the Chinese subsidiary, expatriates’ accounts of how they overcame communication difficulties, and their reflections on what fostered and hampered intercultural communication.

Keywords: expatriate; intercultural collaboration; intercultural communication; multinational company (MNC); narrative


  • Ambos, Tina C & Björn Ambos. 2009. The impact of distance on knowledge transfer effectiveness in multinational corporations. Journal of International Management 15(1). 1–14.Google Scholar

  • Angouri, Jo. 2013. The multilingual reality of the multinational workplace: Language policy and language use. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 34(6). 564–581.Google Scholar

  • Bauer, Martin W & George D Gaskell. 2000. Qualitative researching with text, image and sound: A practical handbook for social research. London: Sage.Google Scholar

  • Beaven, Tita. 2007. A life in the sun: Accounts of new lives abroad as intercultural narratives. Language and Intercultural Communication 7(3). 188–202.Google Scholar

  • Björkman, Ingmar, Janne Tienari & Eero Vaara. 2005. A learning perspective on sociocultural integration in cross-national mergers. In Günter K Stahl & Mark E Mendenhall (eds.), Mergers and acquisitions: Managing culture and human resources, 155–175. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Bluhm, Katharina, Bernd Martens & Vera Trappmann. 2014. Business leaders and new varieties of capitalism in post-communist Europe. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Bond, Michael H. 1991. Beyond the Chinese face: Insights from psychology. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Charles, Mirjaliisa. 2007. Language matters in global communication. Journal of Business Communication 44(3). 260–282.Google Scholar

  • Charles, Mirjaliisa & Rebecca Marschan-Piekkari. 2002. Language training for enhanced horizontal communication—A challenge for MNCs. Business Communication Quarterly 65(2). 9–29.Google Scholar

  • Charmaz, Kathy. 2014. Constructing grounded theory, 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar

  • Chen, Guo-Ming & William J Starosta. 1997. A review of the concept of intercultural sensitivity. Human Communication 1(1). 1–16. http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1037&context=com_facpubs (accessed 31 August 2017).

  • Chen, Ling (Ed.). 2017. Intercultural communication. Handbooks of communication science. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar

  • Clarke, Victoria & Virginia Braun. 2013. Teaching thematic analysis: Overcoming challenges and developing strategies for effective learning. The Psychologist 26(2). 120–123. http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/21155 (accessed 31 August 2017).

  • Cook-Gumperz, Jenny. 2009. Bernstein, educational change, and gendered language. Multilingua—Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication 28(2-3). 291–307.Google Scholar

  • Daiute, Colette & Cynthia Lightfoot (Eds.). 2004. Narrative analysis: Studying the development of individuals in society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar

  • Eschbach, Doris M., Gerald E Parker & Philipp A Stoeberl. 2001. American repatriate employees’ retrospective assessments of the effects of cross-cultural training on their adaptation to international assignments. International Journal of Human Resource Management 12(2). 270–287.Google Scholar

  • Farh, Larry J.-L & Bor-Shiuan Cheng. 2000. A cultural analysis of paternalistic leadership in Chinese organizations. In J. T. Li, Anne S Tsui & Elizabeth Weldon (Eds.), Management and organizations in the Chinese context, 84–127. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar

  • Faure, Guy O & Tony Fang. 2008. Changing Chinese values: Keeping up with paradoxes. International Business Review 17(2). 194–207.Google Scholar

  • Froese, Fabian J. 2010. Acculturation Experiences in Korea and Japan. Culture and Psychology 16(3). 333–348.Google Scholar

  • Froese, Fabian J., Vesa Peltokorpi & Kyung A Ko. 2012. The influence of intercultural communication on cross-cultural adjustment and work attitudes: Foreign workers in South Korea. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 36(3). 331–342.Google Scholar

  • Galasiński, Dariusz & Galasińska Aleksandra. 2008. Untold stories and the construction of identity in narratives of ethnic conflict on the Polish–German border. Silence in institutional and intercultural contexts. Multilingua 24(1-2). 101–120.Google Scholar

  • Galsworth, Gwendolyn D. 2005. Visual workplace: Visual thinking. Portland, OR: Visual-Lean Enterprise Press.Google Scholar

  • Gamble, Jos. 2003. Transferring human resource practices from the United Kingdom to China: The limits and potential for convergence. International Journal of Human Resource Management 14(3). 369–387.Google Scholar

  • Gertsen, Martine Cardel & Anne-Marie Søderberg. 2011. Intercultural collaboration stories: On narrative inquiry and analysis as tools for research in international business. Journal of International Business Studies 42(6). 787–804. doi:10.1057/jibs.2011.15. http://link.springer.com/10.1057/jibs.2011.15.Google Scholar

  • Graf, Andrea. 2004. Screening and training intercultural competencies: Evaluating the impact of national culture on intercultural competencies. International Journal of Human Resource Management 15(6). 1124–1148.Google Scholar

  • Harzing, Anne-Will, Kathrin Köster & Ulrike Magner. 2011. Babel in business: The language barriers and its solutions in the HQ-subsidiary relationship. Journal of World Business 46(3). 279–287.Google Scholar

  • Heizmann, Helena, Anthony Fee & Sidney J. Gray. 2018. Intercultural knowledge sharing between expatriates and host-country nationals in Vietnam: A practice-based study of communicative relations and power dynamics. Journal of International Management 24(1). 16–32. doi:10.1016/j.intman.2017.06.002Google Scholar

  • Hinds, Pamela J., Tsedal B Neeley & Catherine D Cramton. 2014. Language as a lightning rod: Power contests, emotion regulation, and subgroup dynamics in global teams. Journal of International Business Studies 45(5). 536–561.Google Scholar

  • Holmes, Janet. 1998. Narrative structure: Some contrasts between Maori and Pakeha story-telling. Multilingua—Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication 17(1). 25–58.Google Scholar

  • Holmes, Janet. 2005. Relational and transactional functions of workplace discourse: A socio-pragmatic perspective. In Britt-Louise Gunnarsson (Ed.), Communication in the workplace, 7–27. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet.Google Scholar

  • Hong, Jacky F. L. & Robin S. Snell. 2008. Power inequality in cross-cultural learning: The case of Japanese transplants in China. Asia Pacific Business Review 14(2). 253–273.Google Scholar

  • Ishihara, Noriko & Julia Menard-Warwick. 2018. In “sociocultural in–betweenness”: Exploring teachers’ translingual identity development through narratives. Multilingua: Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication 37(3). 255–274. https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2016-0086Google Scholar

  • Luo, Yadong & Oded Shenkar. 2006. The multinational corporation as a multilingual community: Language and organization in a global context. Journal of International Business Studies 37(3). 321–339.Google Scholar

  • Mäkelä, Kristiina, Hanna K Kalla & Rebecca Piekkari. 2007. Interpersonal similarity as a driver of knowledge sharing within multinational corporations. International Business Review 16(1). 1–22.Google Scholar

  • Marschan, Rebecca, Denice E Welch & Lawrence S Welch. 1997. Language: The forgotten factor in multinational management. European Management Journal 15(5). 591–598.Google Scholar

  • Marschan-Piekkari, Rebecca, Denice E Welch & Lawrence S Welch. 1999. In the shadow: The impact of language on structure, power and communication in the multinational. International Business Review 8(4). 421–440.Google Scholar

  • Moran, Robert T., Philip R. Harris & Sarah V. Moran. 2007. Managing cultural differences: Global leadership strategies for the twenty-first century. New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar

  • Nair-Venugopal, Shanta. 2015. Issues of language and competence in intercultural business contexts. Language and Intercultural Communication 15(1). 29–45.Google Scholar

  • Peltokorpi, Vesa. 2007. Intercultural communication patterns and tactics: Nordic expatriates in Japan. International Business Review 16(1). 68–82.Google Scholar

  • Peltokorpi, Vesa. 2008. Cross-cultural adjustment of expatriates in Japan. International Journal of Human Resource Management 19(9). 1588–1606.Google Scholar

  • Peltokorpi, Vesa. 2010. Intercultural communication in foreign subsidiaries: The influence of expatriates’ language and cultural competencies. Scandinavian Journal of Management 26(2). 176–188.Google Scholar

  • Peltokorpi, Vesa & Eero Vaara. 2014. Knowledge transfer in multinational corporations: Productive and counterproductive effects of language-sensitive recruitment. Journal of International Business Studies 45(5). 600–622.Google Scholar

  • Piekkari, Rebecca. 2006. Language effects in multinational corporations: A review from an international human resource management perspective. In Günter K Stahl & Ingmar Björkman (Eds.), Handbook of research in international human resource management, 536–550. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar

  • Piekkari, Rebecca, Denice E Welch, Lawrence S. Welch, Jukka-Pekka Peltonen & Tiina Vesa. 2013. Translation behaviour: An exploratory study within a service multinational. International Business Review 22(5). 771–783.Google Scholar

  • Piller, Ingrid. 2007. Linguistics and intercultural communication. Language and Linguistic Compass 1(3). 208–226.Google Scholar

  • Selmer, Jan. 1999. Culture shock in China? Adjustment pattern of Western expatriate business managers. International Business Review 8(5-6). 515–534.Google Scholar

  • Selmer, Jan. 2006. Language ability and adjustment: Western expatriates in China. Thunderbird International Business Review 48(3). 347–368.Google Scholar

  • Selmer, Jan & Jakob Lauring. 2015. Host country language ability and expatriate adjustment: The moderating effect of language difficulty. International Journal of Human Resource Management 26(3). 401–420.Google Scholar

  • Søderberg, Anne-Marie. 2017. Experience and cultural learning in global business contexts. In Ling Chen (ed.), Intercultural communication, 415–435. Boston & Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar

  • Strauss, Anselm & Juliet Corbin. 1998. Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory, 2nd edn Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar

  • Takeuchi, Riki, Seokhwa Yun & Joyce E.A. Russell. 2002. Antecedents and consequences of the perceived adjustment of Japanese expatriates in the USA. International Journal of Human Resource Management 13(8). 1224–1244.Google Scholar

  • Ting-Toomey, Stella. 2005. Identity negotiation perspective: A theoretical framework. In William B Gudykunst (Ed.), Theorizing about intercultural communication, 211–234. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar

  • Ware, Colin. 2004. Information visualization: Perception for design, 2nd edn San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.Google Scholar

  • Welch, Denice E., Lawrence S Welch & Rebecca Piekkari. 2005. Speaking in tongues: Theimportance of language in international management processes. International Studies of Management and Organization 35(1). 10–27.Google Scholar

  • Wright, Christopher, Fumie Kumagai & Norman Bonney. 2001. Language and power in Japanesetransplants in Scotland. Sociological Review 49(2). 236–253.Google Scholar

  • Zhang, Ling E. & Anne-Wil Harzing. 2016. From dilemmatic struggle to legitimized indifference: Expatriates’ host country language learning and its impact on the expatriate-HCE relationship. Journal of World Business 51(5). 774–786.Google Scholar

  • Zhang, Ling E & Vesa Peltokorpi. 2015. Multifaceted effects of host country language proficiency in expatriate cross-cultural adjustments: A qualitative study in China. International Journal of Human Resource Management 27(13). 1448–1469.Google Scholar

About the article

Published Online: 2018-06-05

Published in Print: 2018-10-25

This article was supported by The (Polish) Ministry of Science and Higher Education, Grant Number: ‘Mobility Plus’/1310/MOB/IV/2015/0, The (Polish) National Science Center, Grant Number: Harmonia 6/UMO-2014/14/M/HS1/00436

Citation Information: Multilingua, Volume 37, Issue 6, Pages 587–611, ISSN (Online) 1613-3684, ISSN (Print) 0167-8507, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2017-0095.

Export Citation

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.Get Permission

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in